The Hunt for Khallid Abdul Muhammad

The Million Youth March leader breaks his silence about the violent end to his historic rally, the demands for his arrest, and life as a possible fugitive from Giuliani-style justice

''I think this is the kind of preaching that Khallid Muhammad is saying, 'Take guns from cops and shoot them!' '' Safir told the press.

Khallid says the suspect ''probably doesn't even know me,'' and may not have attended the march. ''They could have set this up to make me appear to be a cop killer so they could hunt me down and shoot me on sight. The no-good bastards!''

On September 8, the day prosecutors confirmed that there would be a grand jury probe of the violence, Safir said of Khallid, ''This man is like a black Hitler.'' But as the phalanx of menacing cops descended on the crowd, Khallid viewed himself as a black Moses.

Tim Bower

''I know what I did was right,'' he argues. ''I wanted to warn my people, to prepare them, to calm them. I believe I kept them from stampeding. I believe it was my divine duty not to incite a riot, not to turn my people against the police because I had told them all along, at every press conference we had before the march, to be courteous and respectful to each other, and even to the police. I said no drugs, no alcohol, be slow to anger. I said it over and over, and that was our posture. I believe I saved their lives.''

It may come as a shock to his critics, but Khallid Abdul Muhammad had decided not to address the crowd at the Million Youth March. For nine months he had worked on his speech entitled ''The Role and Responsibility of Black Youth in Preparing for the 21st Century.''

''I put the finishing touches on it during the time I spent in West Africa,'' he recalls. ''I thought I would shock everybody and just leave them with their mouths open, with nothing to attack me. I could hear them in their disappointment saying, 'After all of his anti-Semitic and racist attacks and worry over what he would say at the rally, Khallid Muhammad didn't even speak. He did not deliver the major address of hate that we were all waiting to hear, that some didn't want to hear.' ''

But around 3:30 p.m., Malik Shabazz, the march's national coordinator, and emcee that day, noticed that his mentor had been ''flippin' the script'' by ushering activists to the microphone who were not scheduled to speak.

''I'm just gonna take over the program and call you on up,'' Malik threatened. ''Don't keep bringing speakers up here. The people might revolt if you don't give the keynote.''

''Trust me,'' Khallid said with a nervous grin. ''It will turn out fine.''

But Khallid relented when some of the women who were onstage ''came to me with a look of fear in their eyes'' and pointed at an advancing throng of police officers. ''I looked back and saw riot-gear clad cops in a marching formation. They kinda had a rhythm,'' Khallid remembers.

Then he heard the brutal staccato of a police chopper, which reminded him of gunshots in a South Central gang driveby. This was the urban warfare Khallid had predicted and feared. This was the aggression he wanted to protect the people from. According to his Rolex watch, it was about 3:40 p.m. ''I saw that the police presence had increased everywhere, down in the trenches, through the center of the people. It looked like they had snipers and sharpshooters on the rooftops.''

Khallid ordered the women and children off the stage. Only a few burly brothers who had been standing security with him remained. He decided there was no time for a speech; it looked like the cops were about to attack and he had to give the people what he considered a warning.

Khallid recalled the events that ensued this way for the Voice:

Convulsed by the chaos, he summoned his warrior African ancestors. Among those he believes answered his plea were Jamaican-born poet and novelist Claude McKay, a voice of the Harlem Renaissance. McKay's battle cry came to mind: ''If we must die, let it not be like hogs/Hunted and penned in an inglorious spot.''

The police chopper swooped over the astonished crowd. In a moment of paranoia, Khallid and his front line resistance thought that the people were being mowed down.

''I knew that potential was there because the police were trying to fill the atmosphere with terror and fear,'' he charges. As rage built within him, Khallid continued to draw inspiration from Claude McKay, muttering, ''Like men we'll face the murderous, cowardly pack/Pressed to the wall, dying, but fighting back!'' Then, as cops bumrushed the stage, he launched into his ''shout out'' to the people to seize the time.

He says while he spoke, Malik and black activist attorney Michael Warren constantly reminded him of the approaching deadline. ''When we knew it was four o'clock, I stopped right on the dot,'' Khallid claims. ''I stepped away from the mike and we cleared the stage completely. We were down the steps, feet just hitting the ground, and that's when we saw them attack the back of the stage.''

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